'Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Star Zeno Robinson Talks Diversity in Voice Acting

Zeno Robinson is one of the newest voices in the ‘Dragon Ball’ franchise, but he’s already using his voice to advocate for other Black voice actors in anime.

Dragon Ball Super Zeno Robinson Getty

Image via Getty

Dragon Ball Super Zeno Robinson Getty

Zeno Robinson is truly living his dreams. 

He grew up like many millennial kids: planting himself in front of a TV at 5 o’clock sharp to watch Dragon Ball Z.  No matter what was going on in the world, those 30 minutes on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block were sacred. Twenty years later, Robinson is starring alongside the cast he grew up watching in the film Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero as Gamma 2—a charismatic, superhero Android—in a full circle moment which he describes as “one of the biggest blessings of my life and a dream come true.”

Over the last couple years, Robinson has become one of the most popular voice actors in the anime industry. Not just from his roles in several popular anime series (My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Pokemon), but also for using his status to advocate for more diversity in lead roles. Since 2020, Robinson has used his position to push for more voice actors of color in major anime roles, receiving overwhelming support from the community in the process.

Complex recently caught up with Robinson to talk about his experience recording for Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, what the role means to him, diversity in anime casting, and receiving support from the Black community.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Dragon Ball is a massive franchise. How does it feel to be part of this iconic series, especially in a starring role in the Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero?
To be in this iconic series, in this role, is one of the biggest blessings of my life and a dream come true. I grew up on Dragon Ball.Dragon Ball was an anime for people who didn’t know what anime was. I was a collector. I had all the games. It feels like a very full circle moment to play such a critical role in the newest sort of installment in the lore and the franchise.

Now, you play Gamma 2 in the film. How does Gamma 2 differ from the original take on the androids we’ve seen before?
Gamma 2 is wildly different from other Androids we’ve seen in the past, from his design to his personality. The other Androids looked more human. They looked like they were based on teenagers and they’re, like, young rebels. The two Gammas, specifically, are based off of old-school superheroes. They resemble a lot of Japanese, old-school tokusatsu, like Kamen Rider or Ultraman. Also Gamma 2’s personality is more fun-loving. Very dedicated and driven for justice. He’s outgoing, rambunctious, and energetic in a way that’s different from the more malevolent nature of the previous Androids.

Dragon Ball Super Piccolo Gamma 2

How was the experience voicing this role? Especially alongside legends like Sean Schemmel (Goku) and Chris Sabat (Vegeta and Piccolo), how’d it feel being on the same level voicing those roles with these guys?
It was crazy. I remember when we started recording. Gamma 2’s first scene is with Piccolo. So, for a majority of my recording, I had Chris Sabat, who was also my director, as Piccolo, in my ear. So, in my first scene, I’m like: “Oh, my God, that’s Piccolo. That’s the voice I grew up listening to, and I have to talk to him as a character.” So, a lot of it was me trying to keep up with these legends. A lot of it would be just trying to keep pace, just trying to not get left behind and try to rise to their level. Pun intended. (Laughs.) 

Chris Sabat was amazing, he’s an amazing director. He’s an incredible actor and you can tell all the love he puts in every bit of bringing this franchise to life. I really just wanted to honor and respect that. And I think we did.

Do you have a favorite Dragon Ball moment that you remember watching as a kid?
Gohan going Super Saiyan 2 for the first time. Definitely, my favorite moment.

Dragon Ball resonates so much with the Black community. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because we love underdog stories, and as Black people living in America, we are kinda like the underdogs. So, we like seeing underdogs win. We like seeing underdogs like Goku rise to the occasion. I think we’re just drawn to that. And the story, the storytelling is universal.

How does it feel being the first African-American voice actor in a leading Dragon Ball Z role and advocating for more diversity in leading anime roles?
Reaching back to the previous question about how Dragon Ball resonates with the community, it feels like a culmination of that resonance. I’m incredibly honored to have been one of the first Black men in the leading role in a Dragon Ball Z film, a franchise that is so near and dear to not just me, but to my community and people who look like me. A lot of times on my journey, I doubted myself, or I wanted to quit or it didn’t seem like it was worth it. So every time I get recognized in that way, like, “Oh, you were the first to do this,” or like, “Yo I don’t really see a lot of people who look like me,” I’m humbled and honored. And hopefully, people will see themselves in me being in this position, and they can be inspired to get here too.

Dragon Ball Super Zeno Robinson Aleks Le

I’m looking at the cast of the film, there’s a lot of diversity, from age, race, and background. Do you feel like there has been a more concerted effort to diversify casting for these massive anime projects?
I think so. In 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests, a lot of us made some noise. We started calling out the biases we, collectively, as people of color, faced. I think that was a good wake-up call to the decision makers who then started making better efforts to be more inclusive, open up their talent pools, think outside of their own creative box, think about how they can be more inclusive, and offer opportunities that we may not have been offering before. 

I think it’s reflected in a lot of the casts we’ve seen in anime in recent years and in a lot of the actors that are up-and-coming. Even if you look at casts like the new Jujutsu Kaisen, the previous big anime movie, we’ve got a transgender woman in the lead role, and my friend Bill [Butts], he’s playing Miguel. That’s also a diverse cast, as is this. I think it’s a pattern that’s been growing and I hope to see it expand even more.

In your experience, how important are these opportunities for people of color?
Absolutely paramount. Opportunity is my biggest word for people of color, especially in spaces [where] they’re underrepresented. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if someone didn’t get me an opportunity to work with a particular studio, and then that studio gave my name to another studio. Give us the opportunity to show you that we can. We are standing side by side with our peers. I think a lot of people get confused when I talk about diversity. I have a particular person on Twitter who felt like I was weaponizing my race to get work. And it wasn’t that. I’m not asking for work, I’m asking for opportunity. I know I can do the work.

You’re one of the most popular voice actors out right now. How important has been the support of the Black community in the growth of your career?
Absolutely, invaluable. I also wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my community, of my foundation. The support I get from the Black community is very affirming. So, I do try to give back as much as I can in my position by fighting for them too. Fighting for diversity, and making sure it’s clear where I stand on making sure the Black community feels seen, respected, and represented. 

You’ve done so much, I could list it down, but there’s too much. What’s next on your bucket list that you hope to accomplish?
I think right now, I’d like to work as a shonen protagonist. You’ve got your Narutos, you’ve got your Ichigos, I wanna do something like that, on that scale. I’d also like to create. I wanna make things. I wanna get back into that outside of acting. So, I think that’s my next goal for sure.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is now in theaters.

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